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Al Jazeera journalist is freed after 6 years at Guantanamo

May 02, 2008|From Times Wire Services

KHARTOUM, SUDAN — An Al Jazeera cameraman was released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and returned to Sudan early today after six years of imprisonment that drew worldwide protests.

Sami Haj arrived in the Sudanese capital on a U.S. military plane, along with two other freed Sudanese, identified by a British human rights group as Amir Yacoub Al Amir and Walid Ali.

Many of Haj's supporters saw his detention as punishment for a network whose broadcasts angered U.S. officials. The U.S. military alleged that he was a courier for a militant Muslim organization, which his lawyers denied.

The release "was a big surprise for the family," Haj's teary-eyed brother Assem said as he waited at the airport.

Haj was detained in December 2001 by Pakistani authorities as he tried to enter Afghanistan to cover the U.S.-led invasion. He was turned over to the U.S. military and taken to Guantanamo, where the United States holds about 275 terrorism suspects. Few have been charged.

Haj was never prosecuted. In a hearing that ruled he was an enemy combatant, U.S. officials alleged that in the 1990s, he was an executive assistant at a Qatar beverage company that provided support to Muslim fighters in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Chechnya.

The U.S. claimed he also traveled to Azerbaijan at least eight times to carry money on behalf of his employer to the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now defunct charity that the U.S. alleged funded militants.

The officials said that during this period Haj met Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a senior lieutenant to Osama bin Laden. Reprieve, the British human rights group that represents 35 Guantanamo prisoners, said Pakistani forces apparently seized Haj at the behest of the U.S. authorities who suspected he had interviewed Bin Laden.

Sudanese officials said Haj, 38, would not face any charges upon his return. He is to be hospitalized to recover after a 16-month hunger strike.

Reprieve attorney Zachary Katznelson said, "Sami was never alleged to have hurt a soul and was never proven to have committed any crimes. Yet he had fewer rights than convicted mass murderers."

In another case linked to Guantanamo, a Kuwaiti freed in 2005 has carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq, his cousin told Al Arabiya TV Thursday.

A friend of Abdullah Saleh Ajmi in Iraq informed his family that he carried out the attack in Mosul, his cousin said.

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